One of the many pitfalls for Barack Obama and his handlers is the tendency to be too cute by half — think of that cotton candy Greek temple erected on Invesco Field in Denver for the winning candidate’s acceptance speech last summer. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank makes a good case today that the president fell into that trap once again at his Tuesday press conference.
Milbank’s target is the Obama White House’s pre-arranged deal with Huffington Post blogger Nico Pitney to relay a question from an unnamed Iranian who wanted to know under what conditions would Obama accept the election of Ahmadinejad as president of Iran.
Milbank’s problem isn’t so much with the question itself — which set the issue properly — but with the way it was planted. He reports that White House staff had “called Pitney the day before to invite him and they’d escorted him into the room.” Obama was also alerted to call on Pitney as soon as the topic of Iran came up at the press conference.
Writes Milbank: “The use of planted questioners is a no-no at presidential news conferences, because it sends a message to the world — Iran included — that the American press isn’t as free as advertised.”
The Huff Post itself is now conducting a full-court press defense, with Arianna Huffington personally weighing in: “Seems some of the boys can’t seem to understand why the president would have the nerve to call on someone whose Iran coverage has been praised throughout the media, from Charlie Rose to Andrew Sullivan to the Economist.”
That bit about “the boys” seems especially telling; a reminder that the left, just like the right, is ever-ready with a cheap shot when put on the defensive. But what’s interesting here is that this is the first scrimmage in Obama-land on this subject. And while it’s miles away from the Bush White House’s deceit in giving press credentials to a phony reporter, there’s more than a faint echo of that sort of manipulation here, one that Team Obama and its HuffPo supporters ignore at their peril.